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Reward Children without Food
by William Stratbucker, MD on 01/26/2011 at 12:21 PM

"Now that you're done getting your shots, let's go to McDonald's" is a phrase I frequently hear in my office.


Parents are rewarding children with food far too often. No where is this more common than at some schools where birthdays and holidays are celebrated with treats. A patient of mine recently lamented that she was missing two classmates' birthdays being celebrated that day with cake and candy. Two in the same day!


With more than 30 kids in the classroom and needing to squeeze in all the summer birthdays, the patient received a birthday treat almost once a week. This must stop. I'm all for celebrations, but we need a strong dose of common sense when it comes to our children's experience with food.


After a day of first grade, my two six-year-olds couldn't be happier to show me their new pencil toppers (tiny rubbery gizmos that go on the end of your pencil and look like some sort of animal) that they received from a classmate to help celebrate turning another year older. They just don't miss the cake. There is a time and place for celebratory foods, but it is not weekly in the classroom.


President Obama signed the 2010 Hunger Free, Healthy Kids Act late last year. The passage of this bill was highlighted in a local newspaper article. One aspect of the legislation is a limit on school-based celebrations with unhealthy foods. With our nation needing to find ways to reduce extra calories in our children's diets, this is a much needed step. The bill also brings many more children access to healthier school breakfasts and lunches.


If children are to be rewarded for putting up with shots or getting their grades up at the end of the semester, why not a trip to the book store or even the library if finances are tight? We must stop rewarding children with unhealthy food. I admit that on occasion my family celebrates with food. When it is a family birthday we have cake and ice cream. Most dinners, though, end without dessert. It is not a nightly occurrence and when it does happen, we don't make a big deal about it.


I encourage you to talk with your child's school about limiting classroom treats or walk through to see what they are offering your child in the vending machines? What, if anything, will you send to school with your child when it is their birthday?  How are you celebrating without food?

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Comment posted by Anne Veltema on 02/08/2011 at 3:11 PM
Kristie, I think you are misinterpreted Dr. Stratbucker’s post. I don’t think he’s against pizza, ice cream or fast food. He’s against using food as a reward. I completely agree with him. My mom used food as a reward when I was a child and I suffered the consequences. It was only within the past few years I have taken control of my health and weight. I grew up knowing that food was a reward and comfort measure. Food should be used as fuel for the body, not a treat. My dad was an elected official for many years. Each election night my mom, brother and I would sit in front of the TV watching the returns come in – while eating Jay’s potato chips and French onion chip dip. I still associate elections with chips and dip. My mom’s influence on me as a child transferred to bad habits as a teenager and as an adult. Using food as a reward after receiving a shot sends the wrong message – it says that when you’re hurting, food can ease the pain. Food should not be used as a reward. The sooner we realize and accept this, the better.
Comment posted by Anonymous on 02/04/2011 at 2:22 PM
Wow, quite an extreme take on this. I remember in grade school when 1/2 my class had birthdays in the month of May. Yes we ended up having a treat most school days that month and survived. Of course there was only a couple of McD's in the entire city way back then and going to them was a rare treat indeed. I agree food has become terribly unhealthy but don't think a total ban is the answer. We also rode bikes without helmets, skateboarded on tiny platic boards down steep hills with no protective equipment, sledded down ice covered steps, skated on frozen ponds, and rode in cars without seatbelts while our parents smoked in the front seat. Oh and we played outside year round with no one organizing "play dates" for us. And low and behold we survived and became the doctors, nurses, and parents who now feel the need to protect our kids from the tiniest scuff, anything "unhealthy" and worst of all.... failure.
Comment posted by Kristie Carlson on 01/27/2011 at 10:27 AM
Why is Helen DeVos Children's Hospital selling both pizza and ice cream right in their lobby yet you think McDonalds is bad.
Comment posted by candy on 01/27/2011 at 8:36 AM
I very much agree. I wonder how we came to believe that 'food' was the pinnacle of affirmation in good behavior?? There are so many things in life to experience, food is an everyday thing, children are missing out, when we hand them excess calories instead of extra experiences. New experiences don't have to be extravagant. Money for the school store, a dollar store toy on your way to buy laundry soap, even money for the piggy bank is can be exciting for kids. Its time we started acting like parents and helping our kids build good habits by giving them good exposure. Its our job to show them and we don't get forever to get it right.
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